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What's in a Name?

Where is the line between “embodying” and simply checking off a series of boxes that are intended to describe who we are? When does the individual become a Someone? Who gets to decide whether they are or are not this or that?

The current trendy answer is that we’re all unique and no one gets to decide who we are, no one besides us. Yet, the habit is to categorize and identify ourselves and others as quickly as we can say, “jack rabbit.”

“I’m Jewish.” “I’m a student midwife.” “I’m American.” “I hate cooking.” We all have a profile “bio” somewhere, don’t we?

For the longest time, I never knew what to put in those small sections where we’re supposed to summarize the entirety of our personhood in three-to-five sentences. Do I write my resume? Do I list a few interests of mine? Should I say something about how short I am or how one of my teeth is slightly crooked but I tend to smile close-mouthed so you probably wouldn’t know that otherwise? I remember I used to just write a movie quote I thought was funny or cool and hope that no one ever approached me about it, ever.

Now, I have argued, over the years, about this very topic. I have argued my case for being a REAL this or that. But it wasn’t until very recently that I took a step back to look at the larger picture and ask the questions I asked in the beginning of this writing. Yes, we are unique. Yes, I get to make the choices that ultimately form what is and what will become my life. So why, oh why, do I still desperately claw at those special descriptions? Because — for example — currently, right now, despite my history, efforts, and my heart, there are people who will say to my face, “You are not Jewish.” And every description I can come up with, someone else can come up with something different. Someone else can try to and maybe even succeed at changing the definition of what a “midwife” is, therefore excluding me from student-hood of that group.

Let’s hold that thought for a moment. With this, suddenly the world is filled with insecurities. Nothing can be certain. No description is safe.

This is true. The world of words is not safe. For what is a rock? Why, that’s not a rock, it’s a mineral! No, it’s a fossil — which means it’s actually a bone fragment! Fool, that clearly is a gorgeous piece of jewelry that I will now wrap in wire and wear around my neck. — Has anything changed? Isn’t that rock…still a rock? And whether it was a mineral, a bone fragment, or what have you, if its ultimate role was always meant to be a decorative stone for my neck, does its technical makeup matter? If not, what does matter? I think: the role it fulfills. What it is, actively. Therefore, the bonefragmentfossilmineralrock will go in my jewelry box.

Names are powerful, don’t get me wrong. Accuracy is important, I understand. Communication is best when clear, I agree. So who decides who I am? Is it God? Is it me? Is it my community?


I will take the path I take and live the role I’m Divinely given. My community will see me as I am and call me whatever they will. Altogether, I will be what I will be. Maybe that will be described as “immodest poser” or “gifted leader”. Maybe “best friend and beloved wife”. Maybe “nagging know-it-all”. “Prophetess.” “Hippie.” “The village idiot.”

I will continue along my path. Sooner or later, inspired or not, the names will come.

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